Archive for March, 2013

Seeking Social Benefit

March 17, 2013


How do we lead new, more effective ways to deliver social benefit? For many decades, private sector management has applied this lever to their parallel performance challenges. Bill Gates recently extolled its value. A reasonable answer to the question: measurement.

The Gates Foundation 2013 annual letter spells out accomplishments and an ambitious agenda. But, a key message is measuring for managing. “I have been struck again and again by how important measurement is to improving the human condition,” wrote Gates. He cites the intent to eradicate polio. And, describes timely, local, accurate measurement is a prequel to “figure out what is wrong, and fix it.”

Performance Management
Measurement is intimately connected to performance management. Performance management relies on data collection, analysis and course correction. Increasingly, the public, stakeholders, funders and others ask:
• What value are we getting?
• What more can our work deliver?
• How are we changing lives and systems?
These are all fair questions that paid (and volunteer) manager-leaders are eager to answer, too.

In Michigan, measurement has had serious application in early childhood development efforts. First Steps, in partnership with Grand Rapids Public Schools, has focused on what works under what conditions in high-risk neighborhoods with vulnerable children. For example, in less than a week, a pre-kindergarten “camp” positively affected the socio-emotional status of children along with adoption of routines. In addition, Play & Learn groups showed changes in children’s language and literacy skills. Because of measurement, it’s possible to demonstrate progress, thoughtfully adapt programs and identify the value interventions contribute to children, their families and the education system.

Funds for Results
In most contexts, funds are given for the promise of a desired change or intended result in the nonprofit sector. However, as resources are more scarce, connecting funding with proven success may become more common. New financing instruments called social impact bonds require explicit results to continue funding. The planned results and associated cost savings are built into the economic model. And, even the US government is exploring the idea of results-based resources in their programs that offer financial support for social challenges (called Pay for Success).

The discipline of measurement is underutilized, perhaps because of the distinct skills it requires. It also carries some risk, because it points out poor program design, plans and/or implementation. Measurement can certainly identify waste. Notably, not everyone has the same vibrant passion for efficiency and effectiveness.

Social Progress
The old adage goes: You can’t manage what you don’t measure. While “social engineering” has plenty of detractors and critical issues in it – much of our tax exempt or civil sector have huge caches of social, political and economic capital aimed at social change that can deliver more, better value.

Literacy and competencies in measurement are essential to both leapfrog and routine progress. These days, a noble cause is only a great start. Authentic claims about impact or serious change must be grounded in precise measurement. Ask Bill Gates.

-Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See:

Provoking Progress

March 7, 2013


Goal success relies on some critical attributes and practices. Research suggests discipline, strategy, adaptation, decisiveness, and will matters. To deliver breakthroughs and be “out front,” leaders need to be agile, creative risk-takers. All of these factors can contribute to progress or innovation.

Innovation can be understood in three types: evolutionary, revolutionary and disruptive.

Evolutionary refers to improvement in a current market that can be expected. For example, in health care more nurse-delivered care is evolutionary.

Revolutionary refers to improvement that’s not expected. For example in dentistry, dental therapists may be certified and licensed to replace dentists in some care settings.

Disruptive refers to improvement that is unexpected and lots more. It can create new customers, competitors, value and a marketplace previously unidentified. For example, the application of networking and information technology to healthcare has (and will) generate new enterprise. Sensors or robotics that assist patients in specific ways can prevent new costs and complications.

Some change can be replication with “tweaks” or evolutionary. But, there’s lots of room for both revolution and disruption as you (with others) imagine, plan and deliver results. Generating innovation requires new attitudes, thinking and processes.

Gary Shapiro’s latest book, “Ninja Innovation” calls out some important qualities associated with success. Ninjas were spies for the Japanese noble class and valued for skills and training. They were smart and adept professionals. A contemporary US counterpart might be Special Forces personnel.

A few of Shapiro’s ninja innovation characteristics are:
• A ruthless dedication to secure the goal.
• Building the right, great team.
• A disciplined attitude with unwavering focus on the goal.
• Environmental sensing and adjustments to plan.
• Both risk-taking and rule breaking with ethics.

As an agent for change, your choices and actions catalyze others. The factors that can influence individual and organization success are intertwined. We each have direct control of our own attitudes, knowledge, skill and behavior. Where’s the ninja in you?

-Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See:

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